Dave Brogan: Thunderbird Sun Transformation

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By: Dennis Cook

There’s a lot of different kinds of pop music, and you’ll find many of them intermingling and coagulating into interesting new shapes on Dave Brogan‘s solo debut, Thunderbird Sun Transformation (self-released). Given free rein, the ALO drummer-singer-songwriter scoops up the past 40 years or so of radio fare and drinks deep. Thus, he can jump from late ’70s Rod Stewart-esque slink (“Stony Fields”) to ’90s coffeehouse rock (“Broken Record”) to “The Infinite Eye,” which suggests a pop music take on Mahavishnu Orchestra – something echoed in the cover art which recalls the pastel spirituality of Mahavishnu’s Birds of Fire sleeve. And then comes blazing, hypnotic “Casey,” a hanging-off-the-backbeat dark smile that grinds out a lusty lil’ assault prodded nicely by Tim Young‘s squirrelly electric guitar. Each cut skirts pop’s usual Beatles cosmology to synthesize new wrinkles textured by a strongly individual mind. Put another way, Brogan sounds like he’s turned on a radio in the past 20 years and betters most airwave fodder with offhanded skill.

“Easy” lives up to its title, a near-reggae shuffle in the vein of “I Can See Clearly Now” slowed down a notch but delivered with similar uplifting shimmer. That island shuffle returns on “Pemberton Steps,” but given an off-kilter warble like a fine afternoon drunk that ultimately finds you dancing with your cat and laughing for no particular reason. Not an easy mood to capture in song but Brogan does the job and then adds creamy icing with a fab jam ending in the vein of Steely Dan circa The Royal Scam. A Southern boy named Robinson once noted, “There’s a passion in being alone,” and it’s from this hard well of feelings that Brogan draws the twinkling ache of “In Memory of Her,” which, like the best sad songs, helps move us away from romance’s shadows through verse and melody.

Throughout, co-producer Tim Bluhm‘s hand is steady, an invisible force that leaves no fingerprints but helps move things along. Between Bluhm’s production work here and earlier in ’08 on Nicki Bluhm’s debut, we’re beginning to get a sense of The Mother Hips man’s mixing board mojo, a musician friendly approach that’s unobtrusive yet loaded with appealing feel. Think Bill Szymczyk’s production with The Eagles or J.D. Souther’s knob-twiddlin’ for Linda Ronstadt, with less orchestration and a bit more expansive P.O.V. aided by guests Jackie Greene, Paul Hoaglin (Mother Hips), Dan Lebowitz (ALO), Bluhm himself and Tim Young (Zony Mash), whose guitar work is straight up tasty throughout.

Thunderbird Sun Transformation (what a mouthful – Deepak Chopra is peeved you got to it first, Mr. Brogan) is a classic grower, a record that’s likely to sneak up on you, charming you with sideways smiles and small couplets that unlock constrictions inside you. In more basic terms, it’s easy to enjoy music with an undercurrent of swell colors. Ponder it for a while and you may surprised at the hues that open up.

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